A Hong Kong sports official has rejected an apology from the organiser of a weightlifting competition in Dubai after a song linked to pro-democracy protests was played at a prize-giving ceremony instead of Hong Kong’s national anthem, China’s “March of the Volunteers.”

Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Hong Kong gold medallist Susanna Lin made the “time out” gesture at the Asian Classic Powerlifting Championship in Dubai on Friday when “Glory to Hong Kong” was played instead of the city’s anthem. After a similar mishap in South Korea, authorities issued guidelines to sporting bodies insisting that athletes make the gesture if they heard the incorrect song.

Honorary Secretary General of the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong Ronnie Wong rejected a subsequent apology by the president of the Asian Powerlifting Federation Farshid Soltani, according to The Standard citing a radio show appearance. Soltani said staff members did not know which anthem should be played.

Susanna Lin at the Asian Classic Powerlifting Championship 2022 in Dubai on Friday, December 11, 2022. Photo: YouTube screenshot.

“I don’t think this is an adequate explanation,” Wong reportedly said. “When you hire volunteers for international competitions, you have to make sure they have relevant experience… If you were ‘careless,’ you could have played any other song. Why was it this one?”

Police told HKFP on Saturday that they were investigating, but did not respond as to whether the song itself was illegal. “Police are greatly concerned and the Organized Crime and Triad Bureau is investigating the incident,” they said, adding that they would “sternly follow up on whether the incident involves a conspiracy to breach the national anthem law or other Hong Kong laws.”

Last week’s mishap is the fourth such incident to have emerged this year, and comes amid a weeks-long row over the blunders.

Anthem saga

On November 13, the protest song was heard at South Korea’s Rugby Sevens instead of the national anthem. It prompted Asia Rugby President Qais Abdulla Al Dhalai to fly into the city to apologise as the government demanded an investigation. Organisers had reportedly downloaded the top song listed when searching online for the “Hong Kong national anthem.”

Instances of “Glory to Hong Kong” being twice mislabelled as the “national anthem of Hong Kong” in televised footage at other rugby events emerged in the days that followed.

Last month, the government asked a search engine to “pin” the correct information about the national anthem at the top of their search results. Local media reported that the search engine in question was Google.

When HKFP searched for “Hong Kong national anthem” in English using incognito browsing mode on Tuesday, the top Google result was the Wikipedia page for Glory to Hong Kong.

When HKFP searched for “Hong Kong national anthem” in English using incognito browsing mode on Tuesday, the top result was the Wikipedia page for Glory to Hong Kong.

The government has said the song is “closely associated with violent protests in 2019.” The song is also banned in schools.

42-year-old was arrested for “sedition” on November 23 for sharing a video of the South Korean anthem blunder with a message of thanks. He has been denied bail.

Hong Kong’s national anthem law, which criminalises insults to the March of the Volunteers,” was enacted domestically on June 4, 2020 – violators risk fines up to HK$50,000 or three years in prison. Last week, a citizen journalist became the first person to be jailed under the law.

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Tom Grundy

Tom is the editor-in-chief and founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Al-Jazeera and others.